What is couponing and why should I start?  Simply put, it's a great way to save money by clipping, printing, and scanning discounts for purchasable items. With a little time and effort you can go from paying full price for an item to paying less than half price and sometimes even getting the item for free.

Free? How can I receive an item for free just by using coupons?  Very easily! There are things that I don’t even have to pay for anymore as long as I use coupons matched with a sale. There are many ways in which this can be done and I will give you a few examples along the way.

Do I have to be an extreme couponer like what I've seen on television, in order to receive a great bargain?  Absolutely not! Do what you can do and what you have time to for. Everyone’s schedule is different. Yes, major couponing can take up a lot of time, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t grab some great deals with minimal time involved. It’s important to start off at a pace that is right for you.

Whether you are new to couponing and deal matching or a previous couponer who wants to get back into the savings game, I am here to help with any questions you have. I hope that my couponing 101 series, as well as my weekly posts and match-ups will make it easier for you. Of course, if there is anything you feel stuck with or have a question about something, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

That’s what I am here for. :-)

Where can I find coupons? These days, coupons can be found practically anywhere. Visit here for a list of places and ways in which you can find coupons.

Couponing actually has it own language. There are terms and acronyms that you will frequently come across when you start couponing. To help eliminate confusion, I have added a cheat-sheet for some of the basic lingo that you may come across during your couponing journey or while reviewing deal match-ups.

If a store accepts coupons, then they will usually have a specific coupon policy. Every store will vary on the terms of coupon use and what they permit and don’t permit. I have compiled a list
of common stores and their coupon policies. (UPDATE: Given the ever-changing store coupon policies, I've decided to take down my previous list of coupon policies. Most major store chains do have a coupon policy located on their website. If you're having an issue finding a particular store's coupon policy, please feel free to contact and I will try to help any way that I can.) Later on I will cover the basics at shopping in several big box retail chains and drug stores. This will give you a general idea on how a coupon policy can differ from store to store. If you have certain stores that you frequently shop at, then I would recommend printing a copy of their most up-to-date policy. Keep it with you or in the car while you shop. While most customer service attendants and cashiers should be fully aware of their store's coupon policy, there are still some occasions when you may run into an issue with one accepting a specific coupon or deal scenario. Having the coupon policy handy, should help with any clarification that is needed and alleviate any issues if that may possibly arise.

Using a coupon in an unethical way is actually, believe it or not, illegal. It is very important to practice ethical couponing. Always be sure to review each coupon that you use very carefully. Not every coupon will have the same terms and conditions. For example, if you want to use a coupon with the hopes that it will double (at a store that allows doubling), make sure that the coupon does not state “DND,” “Not Subject to Doubling,” or “Do Not Double.” If it does, then doubling of that particular coupon will be prohibited. When using printable coupons be sure to use the original. You should never copy coupons and try to use them. When using coupons, you should also make sure the coupon isn’t past its expiration date and that it is being used on the exact item that it is actually for. This usually consists of studying the wording to make sure there is a match. Sometimes the wording will be different than the picture on the coupon. Rule of thumb is that the wording trumps the photo. For more information on ethical couponing and how to prevent coupon fraud, you can visit the Coupon Information Center.

What is the difference between a store coupon and a manufacturer coupon?  The most common type of coupon you will see is the manufacturer coupon. These are the typical coupons that most stores will accept. There is also something called a store coupon. These are coupons that will be labeled for a particular store and normally can only be used at that particular store. There are some exceptions to this rule, and that is when another store will allow for competitors coupons (for example being allowed to use a Walmart store coupon at Stop & Shop).

What is coupon stacking?  Now that you know what the difference between a store and a manufacturer coupon are, you will be happy know that there are some stores out there that actually allow you to use both a store coupon and a manufacturer coupon at the same time for one particular item. This is called coupon stacking. Stores such as Target and Family Dollar allow for coupon stacking. Coupon stacking is a great, because it allows you to maximize even more savings. Let’s say you have a one manufacturer coupon for $1.00 off one bottle of Dove Shampoo and one Target store coupon for $0.50 off one bottle of Dove Shampoo. Target store policy allows for coupon stacking, so you could use both coupons on that one bottle of Dove Shampoo and save a total of $1.50 on that one bottle of Dove shampoo.

 (This Target Store Coupon and manufacturer coupon were both stacked to receive a free bag of chocolate, which was originally priced at $2.99 prior to coupons.)

What is coupon doubling?  Next to stacking, doubling is my favorite of all coupon usage perks. Stores will usually state in their coupon policy whether they allow for double coupons or not. Doubling is basically when a store allows for a coupon up to a specific amount to be doubled in its original value. So let’s say for example you have a $0.50 coupon you want to use at checkout and your store allows for doubling. Instead of receiving $0.50 off, your coupon will double up to $1.00 off. Most stores will have a cap on doubling. My local store will double up to $0.99. If I have a $0.99 coupon, and it doesn’t have any stipulations on doubling, I could save $1.98 on that one item. WOW!

(The $0.75 coupon pictured, above, would double to $1.50 at a store that allows for it, making this product only $0.50.)

What is an overage?  Once in a while you will find a store that allows for what is called "overage." This is when you use a coupon that is higher in value than the purchase price of the item you are using it for. For example, let's say you want to purchase something that is $1.00, and you are using a $2.00/1 coupon at a store which allows for overage, you will have a $1.00 moneymaker after you purchase the product and use that coupon.

When using a coupon that is higher in dollar value than the purchase price of an item, you are going to run into one of three scenarios, depending on the store’s coupon policy:

Scenario #1: The store doesn’t allow for overage in their coupon policy, so they will just adjust the coupon value down to the purchase price. This means you will get the item for free, but it won’t be a moneymaker.

Scenario #2: The store does allow for overage in their coupon policy and for cash back. This means that you will receive money off of the item, making it free, plus you will receive change back for the overage difference of the coupon you used.

Scenario #3: The store does allow for overage in their coupon policy, but not for cash back. This means that money will come off for the item being purchased, making it free, but they do not allow change back for the remaining overage. The best way to take advantage of this situation is to have an extra item in your cart, so the remaining overage from that coupon can be applied to the rest of your checkout order.

What does ETS mean and why is it important to look for on a coupon?  Sometimes you'll notice that a coupon will say “ETS” or “Except Trial/Travel Size.” This means that the coupon is not allowed to be used on a trial or travel sized item. Then there will be times when a coupon won’t specify whether or not it could be used on a trial/travel size. If it doesn’t specify, then this usually means it is fair game, as long as there isn't any other size specifications mentioned. Why is this something you will want to look out for? Let's say perhaps you want to purchase that large bottle lotion, but would receive a better deal if you got the smaller size instead. If your coupon doesn’t state any size specifications on it, then you can use that coupon on the smaller size, which can include the trial or travel size version. This will provide you with even more savings and sometimes even free items.

(This 3 ounce bottle of lotion was only $0.97, and I had a $1.00 off coupon with no ETS restrictions)

Once you have a collection of coupons, you are probably going to want to create a system to keep yourself organized. There is no right or wrong way to do this. It’s all about personal preference and what works for you. Here are a few ideas that may help:

Coupon Accordion File
Storage box with Indexed Dividers for Categories
Categorized File Folders.
A Three-Ring Binder (using baseball and currency sheets to hold the coupons)

By Product Category (For ex. Personal Care, Dairy, Snacks, etc.)
By Store Aisle
By Expiration Date
By Insert Name (For Ex. RedPlum, SmartSource, etc.)

(I use both a binder and an accordion file to organize my coupons. My binder is sorted by product category and my accordion file is sorted by store aisle for quick/planned store trips.)

You may have already noticed that some items go on sale during certain times of the year. Knowing your sales cycles gives you an advantage at planning your shopping trips accordingly. It also provides a great opportunity to stock on items when they are at their best prices. You could build a nice stockpile according to what’s on sale. I have compiled a general list of what you may find on sale during certain times of the year.

  • Plan your trip. Look through your printed and online store circulars (most stores offer their weekly ads right on their website). Have your coupons printed and ready to go and don’t forget your shopping list. Doing so will have you ready to tackle your shopping trip and help save you time and money!
  • Never leave home without your coupons. If you don’t want to carry them around, then leave them in your car. You could always run out and get them if you catch a spur of the moment deal.
  • Check clearance aisles and look for unadvertised deals. Even if you’ve planned your trip, take a peek at what clearance items are available. Sometimes you can find some excellent deals with your coupons.
  • Sign up for your favorite store and manufacturer email updates and newsletters. By doing this, you be able to receive exclusive deals, printable coupons, and sales notifications.
  • Be sure to sign up for all store card programs wherever you shop. This gives you maximum savings along with your coupons. Sometimes a store sale will only be available to store card members, so it is always good to have yourself signed up at your favorite stores.
  • Try to step out of your comfort zone and try other brands. If you find an excellent deal on a body wash brand that isn’t your typical favorite, why not give it a try? You might like it, plus you'll be saving some money.
  • Remember saving some money is better than saving no money! One day you may save 80% off your total shopping order and other days, you may only save 5%. If you have saved any amount, then your shopping trip is still a success!